Karl Gallagher (libertarianhawk) wrote,
Karl Gallagher

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Peer-Reviewed Global Warming

jhubert invited challengers to debate his assertion that:

global warming
(a) is real,
(b) is at least partially caused by human activity, and
(c) is going to be a serious problem in the decades to come.

by pointing to contrary evidence in the peer-reviewed literature.

My response was:
If you want a bibliography, Crichton's novel and essays are probably a good starting point. For myself:

(a) Looking at a graph of the past 1000 years shows temperature averages go all over the place. Currently they're going up. From 1940 to 1970 they were going down, producing a flurry of ice age predictions. Lots of predictions that they'll keep going up are out there. When I've dug into them I've found they're based on computer models (having written a bunch this sets off my BS detector) by people who need voters to panic in order to get funding increases (no innocents in this story). So I take them with a large grain of salt.

(b) The basic idea makes sense, but it's hardly matching the data. Did 1940-1970 have a big decrease in CO2 emissions? I don't think so. Given that this is being grasped by a bunch of people who like giving governments more control over everything I don't have much hope of finding real data on the question.

(c) Y'know, I've NEVER seen anyone say "X is the optimum temperature for the planet" or even give a range. Lots of people say "There will be Change, and Change is Bad." I'm always amused by Canadians opposing global warming. You'd think they'd be subsidizing coal plant construction worldwide.

None of this, of course, is peer-reviewed. My professional experience has found peer-reviewed publications useless for supporting practical efforts so it's been nearly a decade since I last paid attention to one.
Expanding on the last point a bit . . . I've tried using the official literature for my field, aerospace engineering, and usually been very disappointed. When I've had difficult problems I've done research and found lots of articles on the topic. As a rule, they all had simplifying assumptions which made the math easier but rendered it useless for practical purposes (i.e., the task the boss was breathing down my neck about). Peer-reviewers had no problem with this since the assumptions were clearly spelled out and the conclusions followed logically. But they were a waste of time for me.

At a greater remove, I saw the academics churn out a flurry of papers on how SSTO was impossible and a waste of money when NASA was fighting off SDIO's (later DARPA's) attempt to build an SSTO rocket. Once that threat was gone and NASA had funding for X-33 to pursue its own SSTO the professional magazines filled up with articles by the same academics about how SSTO would be the breakthrough to save NASA and bring us into the Real Space Age. Were the first batch of papers wrong? No, they just had slightly different assumptions. All fine and dandy.

So what was going on? These professors (and PhDs seeking tenure-track posts) got their funding from NASA or related government grant-givers. They wrote the papers that would make their funding source happy. Anyone who didn't discovered that the private sector wasn't such a bad place to wind up in after all. (They also discovered that few co-workers were as backstabbing as a colleague competing for tenure, or as arrogant as a professor who already had it.)

How does this apply to global warming research? Climatologists need funding. Voters are much more supportive of research funds when they're afraid of major disasters. Bureaucrats favor research that justifies greater government control of the economy. And faculty cocktail parties are friendlier to researchers supporting the prevailing doctrines. So when in doubt climatologists are going to put in the assumptions that make their predictions lean toward a hot planet and overweight the impact of human activity. Nothing evil or malicious--just human beings responding to their incentives.

But that's why I don't give more credence to "peer-reviewed" research as compared to other sources of data.
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